Most tattoo artists started out in the industry as apprentices. Bottom of the pecking order and basically the shop bitch. Although that may sound terrible to some, it’s a right of passage and 100% worthwhile.
A tattoo shop apprenticeship is not the same as these government run apprenticeships. You don’t get a formal qualification at the end of it, and you’re not paid to do it either. You’re being taught a valuable lifelong skill, in turn, you’re repaying them by doing whatever it is your mentor asks you to do – it’s that simple. You could be asked to do anything from mopping the floors to handing out flyers or cleaning their car! It all teaches discipline and respect no matter the task and let’s face it, you’re going to be learning some priceless skills so you can’t expect to have it easy!
Whether you choose to go into a studio straight away or send an initial enquiry by email, the first thing any potential studio is going to be paying attention to is your portfolio. This is basically a collection of your best work, normally stored in a folder or book. The picture below shows some that were in mine.
It’s important that you show that you’re versatile while still maintaining quality. When tattooing (starting off especially) you’ll be required to tattoo anything and everything; so only being able to draw in one style isn’t going to be as appealing as someone who can diversify their art. That said, having a style you’re looking to specialise in, and showing that in your portfolio is good too. It shows that you know which areas you’re strongest in and that you’re working with what comes naturally to you, which normally results in better work. If you’re unsure about the quality of your portfolio, asking the opinion of a few honest friends and family (or even strangers!) before taking it to a studio can help.
Getting to know people in the industry prior to your search for an apprenticeship will benefit you greatly when you do eventually put the feelers out. You can do this by getting tattooed and asking questions or going to conventions and networking. If a potential mentor has already met you, knows your work ethic and keen interest, they’re going to be far more likely to want to take you on than they would a complete stranger. You’ll also pick up different tips and tricks and make some cool friends along the way.
Attitude goes a very long way when it comes to getting an apprenticeship. It’s so important that you don’t come across arrogant or self righteous. Being big headed isn’t going to get you liked or make someone want to teach you a skill they’ve been honing for years. Likewise, assuming you know it all because you’ve seen it on Miami Ink or Tattoo Fixers isn’t going to get you far. You need to be open to criticism and take things on the chin. Any opinions and critique on your work should be taken into account as it’ll all help you improve in the long run – which is what you want, right?! Persistence and not giving up on yourself is what will drive you to achieve your dreams, so putting the right actions in place is key to making it happen!
Its going to be hard work, long days and sometimes seemingly little thanks but once you’ve completed your apprenticeship you’ll be set up for life with arguably one of the coolest jobs around! What’s a year or two of hard slog for that?!